Government clashes with Lords over ID Cards

Government clashes with Lords over ID Cards

Summary: The Government claims that the Lords decision to push for more transparency over the costs of the ID Card scheme could actually make the project more expensive to implement

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TOPICS: Government UK
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The Home Office has said it will seek to overturn a Lords vote against the controversial ID card Bill during which peers claimed there needs to be more transparency around the true costs of the project,

During a vote on Monday, peers effectively refused to approve the ID Card bill until a detailed cost breakdown of the scheme is made public. The House of Lords voted 237 votes against 156 votes in favour of an amendment to the bill that would force ministers to reveal the full ID card costs to the National Audit Office for scrutiny. .

The Home Office claims the 10-year cost of the ID cards project will be £5.8bn but academics at the London School of Economics (LSE) estimate the real cost is nearer £19bn and that it could even spiral to £30bn.

However, the Home Office argued that the Lord's decision to push for more transparency over costs would cause more harm than good. Rather than driving down costs, transparency over budgets could actually result in the project becoming more expensive overall, it claimed.

"The Lords recommendations will limit the government's ability to keep costs down, as the figures would have to be put into the public domain. We're trying to get the best deal possible, and if the figures were public we may not be able to," the spokeswoman said.

The home office added that overall it will attempt to be as transparent "as possible", but said that it could not provide precise costs as they would be based on estimates.

"The Home Office wants to be as open and clear about this as possible. At this stage estimates are estimates, so we can't release the precise costs of the scheme," said spokeswoman.

But the Home Office's latest claim that transparency could actually increase costs appears to contradict a statement made by Home Office minister Andy Burnham on Monday.

"We have put figures in the public domain. We have been quite clear about how much it will cost to issue people with a biometric passport and a biometric identity card," he told Channel Four news.

Representatives from LSE welcomed the Lords decision, and called for a in-depth review of costs.

"There needs to be a full review of costs of IT implementation," said Professor Ian Angell, head of LSE's Department of Information Systems. He claimed that there should be an independent audit to investigate the true costs of the project.

"It's crazy that the Home Office can get a Bill through the House of Commons without MPs having the full information. The National Audit Office is the ideal place to review the figures," he said.

The lack of clear aims and objectives for the ID card project — for instance whether the card would be used for identification or authentication — were a clear sign that the Home Office was fundamentally confused, Angell said.

"To implement an information system, you need to have a clear set of objectives to reach and aims to address. What you have here is a moving target. The cards may be used for e-commerce authentication, but also as an ID card, which is what the police want," he claimed.

The security implications of linking ID and authentication alone would be "horrendous" according to Angell: "There are going to have to be substantial secondary systems. What idiot says it's going to be infallible? There will be a 0.1 percent failure rate at least. If this is part of e-commerce, the security concerns will be horrendous."

The professor predicted the implementation of the bill would be a disaster for the government: "It'll be like watching the Titanic from the drawing board to the iceberg. This is going to be a shambles."

The next stage of the process will see the House of Lords consider further amendments to the bill next week including one that would take out a key part of the legislation forcing people to register for an ID card when renewing driving licences and passports.

silicon.com's Andy McCue contributed to this report

Topic: Government UK

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com. He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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